Being on the bike as much as I have over the last ten years has been a wonderful experience, a blessing, a learning experience like no other, by the seat of my pants, literally, and ongoing. Yes you can read all about it, watch the videos but until you actually hit the road you’ll never fully understand what I’m talking about. Those that I ride with, especially the passionate ones, those who eat, sleep and breath it are the best teachers and South West Florida is a great classroom. I can attend class every day of the year. There is no off season, taking a rest day is the true discipline, but that’s a topic for another day.
Group rides are extremely popular among recreational and competitive cyclists. The social interaction is a major incentive to ride in groups, but there is also safety in numbers. Here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way. Some I’ve learned the hard way but lessens learned the hard way are forever.
- Don’t be late. Be early, fed, rested and ready to go.
- Make good choices. If you are getting dropped, finding yourself alone, it’s not the rapture, you are riding with the wrong group. Don’t complain just find the right group. Conversely, if you are the fastest one in your group, rather than being the Judas Goat, move up.
- Dropped is just that. You can no longer hang on. But if someone in your group has a mechanical or gets stuck in traffic this is not getting dropped. Wait and / or assist just like the pros.
- Neutral zones allow those who have temporarily fallen back to rejoin the group. This is very helpful at the end of a sprint. Just sit up for a minute.
- Be self sufficient. Tote your own pack. Know your machine and have everything you need to ride. Be able to change a flat and bring enough air. Be able to repair a tube if you only carry one. Be prepared to repair large punctures in the tire. If you have effected an “iffy” repair like wrapping a broken spoke around it’s neighbor or you’ve repaired a large tire slice for example, move to the back if you decide to continue on. Have an extraction plan. Bring enough to eat and drink. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.
- Go over your machine regularly. Wipe off and check the tires. Clean and lube the chain regularly. Check the brakes and wheel alignment. Keep your machine clean, tight and lubed. Tap the spokes.
- Pay it forward. Share your experience, knowledge and your repair supplies. You could be the next one in need.
- “A” group aside, pace, distance and max. speed is to be set and adhered to.
- Hold your line and don’t speed up in the turns. Take the pace up gradually when taking the pull allowing the rider coming off the front to get back on. Don’t blow up the group.
- Ride big. With a large group riding two abreast is a best practice. Visibility increases and it takes less time for the motorist to overtake the group. It is also legal to do so.
- “A” group rides will be unlimited pace and speed. There will be lead outs, sprints, breakaways and pursuits.
- Pull through the line if at all possible. There is no required time that you need to stay on the front. Sitting on the back should be allowed. Just let others know that’s what you’re doing.
- Fill the gap.
- When you are on the front signal slowing, braking, stopping, direction and point out road hazards. Calling out all these things is very helpful. Glance over your shoulder and signal which side you want the line to go by on before moving off the front.
- On the back stay a little further out in the lane to create better visibility for traffic from behind.
- Aero Bars are only to be used on the front, or to the side of the paceline and never within the line. I say never on the back.
- Don’t be staring or fiddling with your gadgets. Concentrate on what’s in front of you and be aware of those beside you.
- Don’t overlap the wheel of the rider in front of you.
- If you are leaving the group at any point before the end of the ride let others know and go to the back. Do not make an unexpected turn from within the group. Signalling an unexpected turn is confusing and dangerous.
- Share emergency contact information.
- Hold your line and avoid sudden unexpected behavior such as grabbing the brakes, speeding up, slowing.
- Use extreme caution when riding with traffic. Take the lane to eliminate the squeeze play . Be assertive, not reckless or careless.
- Overreacting to the rude motorist gives them the power. Avoid confrontation. Yes I know first hand how hard this can be.
- Of course riding before dawn or after dark requires proper lighting. In addition, riding directly into the sun’s glare is a good time to sit up and back off the gas.
- Don’t be too pro to say hello. You never know who that might be riding beside you. You might be surprised. One day I looked to my right and there was Greg Lemond. We had a nice chat about bicycles NOT ABOUT LANCE ARMSTRONG! Engage but don’t be a jerk.